Special Events and Party Planning

Image of people having a party using the party pack


Whether you’re planning a large public event, a business meeting or an intimate dinner party - with a bit of planning you can make it a Zero Waste function.  

This page gives you the information and tools you need to have a Zero Waste event.

Zero Waste Party Pack

Borrow a Free Party Pack for Your Next Event

Zero Waste Party Pack in use with table settings and food


Zero Waste Party Packs are a set of reusable dishware, utensils, and napkins you can borrow to host a great indoor or outdoor party. They are FREE and available for residents to borrow.



Contact a Zero Waste Block Leader To Borrow A Party Pack

You can borrow a party pack from a Zero Waste Block Leader near you. Most block leaders have party packs available for you to borrow. If they don't, they'll get you in touch with a block leader who does.  Find the Zero Waste Block Leader near you. 

Zero Waste Party Pack Contents

Each party pack includes 24 place settings. Dishware is in 3 colors - green, red, and blue.  

Dishware sets in 3 colors plus utensils and napkins

Best Practices - To Help You Host A Zero Waste Event

Check out our Best Practices Guide (PDF, 219KB)with set up tips to help you have a Zero Waste event.

Party Pack bins
Make sure party attendees know where to return their items.

Special Events

Planning for Zero Waste

Holding an event takes a lot of planning. Zero Waste considerations should be integrated into the earliest stages of event planning in order to create a Zero Waste event. This section has information on the City’s special event Zero Waste requirements along with information, tools and resources to help you meet those requirements.

Special Event Information:

Zero Waste Event Guidelines

The City of Palo Alto has the goal of Zero Waste (no waste burned or buried) by 2021. In an effort to achieve this goal, the City requires that all special events practice waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting measures. 

These guidelines(PDF, 200KB) were created to help event organizers plan a Zero Waste event and comply with the City’s Recycling and Composting Ordinance.



  • Provide recycle, compost and garbage for event
    • Subscribe to waste collection service sufficient to contain the waste generated by your event.
    • Provide waste stations in convenient locations for recycle, compost, and garbage separation by event employees, vendors, and attendees.
      • No standalone containers are permitted
      • See the Waste Station Guidelines section below for more detail.
    • Remove or cover all public litter cans throughout event area so they can’t be used.
  • Employ Zero Waste purchasing practices
    • Use reusable, recyclable or compostable containers.
      • View list of accepted items.
    • Use compostable utensils if utensils are necessary.
    • Provide condiments (e.g., sugar, ketchup, mustard, salad dressing) in bulk instead of in individual packages and servings.
    • Limit single-use water bottles. Note: these bottles are prohibited at City sponsored events.
    • Do not use
      • Plastic bags
      • Expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam ™) items
      • Plastic utensils, stir stick or straws
      • Disposable decorations, including balloons
      • Pre-packaged goodie bags or individually wrapped promotional items
  • Ensure that the City of Palo Alto’s Zero Waste requirements are followed by all your vendors/display table participants. 

Highly Suggested

  • Let attendees know about your greening efforts in advance and include the information in announcements to attendees.
    • Ask attendees to recycle and compost (describe bins and sample items for each bin).
    • Thank attendees for bringing their own refillable water containers, coffee mugs, cloth napkins, etc.
  • Limit the number of handouts and make materials available online 
    • If you do have handouts and brochures, use ones that are printed in a sustainable manner.
      • Use 100% post-consumer recycled paper.
      • Print on both sides of paper.
      • If documents are printed at a print shop, request soy-based inks.
  • Reuse existing signs whenever possible. If you need new signs, select signs made from recyclable or reusable materials.
    • Print banners or signs without dates, so they can be used year after year.
    • If you don’t already have a banner and it will only be used once, print paper banners if possible and recycle them when finished. If paper will not work, print banners on cloth instead of vinyl.
    • Print signs on paper core instead of foam core. Foam core cannot be recycled but paper core can.
  • Limit promotional items to useful, durable items.
  • Sell foods that do not require utensils (e.g., sandwiches, fries, kabobs, egg rolls).
  • Provide waste station monitors. See the Waste Station Monitoring section below for more detail.

Ordering Waste Collection Service

Garbage, recycle and compost collection service can be ordered by contacting GreenWaste of Palo Alto at 650-493-4894 or pacustomerservice@greenwaste.com.

GreenWaste Environmental Outreach Coordinators (EOCs) are available to assist you, at no additional cost. Assistance includes:

  • Establishing appropriate service levels
  • Zero Waste planning for special events
  • Education: on-site trainings and meetings, posters and stickers

Note: Some events may be eligible to use their own containers instead of ordering Special Event service from GreenWaste of Palo Alto. Alternate containers are acceptable as long as waste stations adhere to the Waste Station Guidelines laid out below.

Waste Logistics

  • Create a map showing the locations of the central waste collection area(s) and the locations of the waste stations for attendees. (This is required as part of the special event permit in the event diagram showing the event’s overall layout.)
  • Create a central waste collection area(s) with clearly marked bins for vendors and event staff to consolidate waste materials. Depending on the size of your event you may choose to have multiple consolidation locations.
  • Supply all vendors with information explaining how and what to recycle and compost, all Zero Waste requirements, and a map showing the central waste collection area(s).
  • Remove or cover all public litter cans throughout event area so they can’t be used.
  • If vendor booths are set up with garbage containers, they must also be equipped with recycle and compost containers.

Waste Station Guidelines

  • Recycle, compost and garbage containers must be placed directly beside each other.
  • Place containers side-by-side in same order for each station (example: blue, green, black).
  • Place waste stations in visible, high traffic areas that do not conflict with the Fire Marshall’s requirements (i.e., entrances, exits, bathrooms, etc.).
  • Use appropriate signage on all waste station containers. Posters are provided by GreenWaste if you order Special Event service. They are also available to download:


Example of a waste station


Waste Station Monitoring

Arrange to have a person monitor each waste station during the event to assist in educating attendees on what materials go in each container. This will help ensure the event is compliant with the City’s Recycling and Composting Ordinance.

There are multiple agencies that can assist your event with monitoring waste stations. A local organization is listed below.

The Palo Alto Downtown Streets Team (DST) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which is a transitional program that teaches participants successful work habits with the goal of re-entering the workforce and building self-esteem. They currently have contracts with the City of Palo Alto to assist with cleanliness and maintenance of the downtown area and soccer fields. For more information regarding costs and how DST might be able to help, call (650) 897-HELP (4357).

The listing above is an example of a vendor that can assist you with waste station monitoring. It does not imply endorsement by the City of Palo Alto.

City Permit Application

Special event permits are issued by the Palo Alto Police Department. Visit the Special Event Permit Application page for more information.


Holidays and Parties

Tips for less wasteful, but every bit as festive celebrations.

Catering in?

  • Choose a caterer who will supply reusable dishes and napkins. Ask the caterer to provide reusable trays that can be returned or have food presented on your own trays or dishes.
  • Ask your caterer to make their dishes using local and organic items.


Doing it yourself?

  • Use your own dishes, cloth napkins and utensils instead of disposables. You can also borrow a Zero Waste Party Pack or check "Rental Service Stores" in the Yellow Pages or by searching online for a place to rent dishes, napkins, tablecloths and flatware. Many rental agencies deliver. You may even return rinsed dishes and soiled napkins so you don’t have to do the dreaded holiday wash-up.
  • Skip utensils and plates entirely and serve finger food. Purchase enough cloth napkins for the party or rent them from a linen service. Once bought, napkins will be useful for years.


Don't forget to recycle and compost!

Make recycling and composting convenient (set recycling and composting containers next to garbage containers) and be sure your family and friends know where the containers are and what is accepted in each. Signs are available for you to download or you can create your own.


Signs for Downloading


Business Lunches, Meetings and Conferences

Break Out of the Box Lunch As Usual

Making environmental considerations part of planning for business events can make a significant difference in the amount of food, paper and packaging waste generated.

There are many aspects to consider in various types of business events. If your business has an environmental services officer, a "green team," or other designated group which plans for environmental improvements, the checklist is a great tool to let everyone know how well your company is doing. You can then target the changes you want to make in specific areas of event planning as they apply to your business.

Resources that may help:
EPA Greening Your Meetings Guide
California Resource Recovery Association Zero Waste Guidelines used to plan its 2006 Conference(PDF, 15KB)

Foodware Options

Reusable, Recyclable or Compostable? Information on Your Options

Reusable foodware is the best option. Using reusables conserves natural resources, prevents waste and litter in our watersheds and oceans, and can save your business money

  • Residents can borrow a Zero Waste Party Pack.
  • Organizations can stock their lunch and break rooms with reusable and washable dishes, cups, and silverware.
  • With a little planning, special events can be serviced with reusable foodware as well.


If reusable products are not an option, consider recyclable or compostable service ware instead. While not as environmentally friendly, because recyclable and compostable dishes, cups and cutlery are still meant to be used once and then disposed, recycling or composting them does reduce their impact on our environment. Consider products that are:

Effective April 22, 2010, Palo Alto has an ordinance that restricts food vendors from providing prepared food in disposable food service containers made from expanded polystyrene or non-recyclable plastic. Read the fact sheet(PDF, 429KB) on the ordinance.

Effective January 1, 2020, plastic straws, utensils, stirrers, and other small plastic items are no longer allowed in Palo Alto. Please see our Disposable Foodware Ordinance page for more information.